Thursday, October 11, 2012

The Dilemma Of Trusting In The Arm Of Flesh

The following letter was written to local church leadership from an inactive member of the Church:

"In 1977, we purchased a set of the JOURNAL OF DISCOURSES, and that purchase changed the entire course of our lives. As you know, the JOURNALS consist mostly of conference reports and other addresses by the General Authorities of the Church. Members of the Church are encouraged to be concerned only with the reports of current conferences, because, since it is only necessary to “follow the living prophet,” no one need be concerned about the teachings of former prophets. Most members who buy the 26 volumes of the JOURNALS leave them unread on the shelf. Well, we not only read them but studied them, and this has made all the difference.

"As we continued studying the JOURNALS, they led us to other sources of information about the teachings and practices of the Church and its leaders in the 19th Century. Over the months and years, it gradually dawned on us with an ever increasing awareness that the Church we belonged to as mid 20th Century Mormons was not the same Church as that founded by the Prophet Joseph Smith and perpetuated by Brigham Young. In spite of the constant reassurances by contemporary Church leaders that, only procedural matters of “form and policy” have changed, we began to realize that the changes have been much more extensive and profound. In fact, there have been drastic doctrinal changes, including total reversals of official Church position. How could this occur in a system based on the revelation of absolute, unchanging and unchangeable “truths” to prophets of God? Could one of the “prophets” have been wrong? Or both? Or maybe all?

"For years we attempted to work it all out so that it all made sense. The more we studied and prayed, the less the pieces of the puzzle seemed to fit, and the greater became our concern and our dismay. Eventually, however, we came to realize that the reason the pieces did not fit was because they were pieces to different puzzles. The Church had changed so much from its 19th Century origins that it was no longer the same.

"To list the changes of which I speak and to document them would lengthen this epistle into a volume of unwieldy size. Some of the more outstanding areas of concern, however, include the identity of and nature of Deity (“Adam God”); Jehovah of the Old Testament and Christ; consecration, united order and tithing; the nature of eternal progression; the temple endowment; eternal marriage, polygamous and monogamous; Negro and priesthood; the priesthood garment; priesthood offices, particularly that of Seventy; blood atonement; preaching by the spirit vs. written speeches; method of missionary work; trusting our salvation to human leaders; world and national politics, government and friendship with the world; infallibility of the President of the Church; the nature of revelation; gathering of Israel; rebaptism; adoption; laws of God and laws of man; establishment of the Kingdom of God; sacrament; and more. In all of these areas, the present teachings of the Church are not the same as they were before the great transition in Mormonism which occurred just after the turn of the century" (Anonymous letter, fall of 1997).

Though it includes firesides, funeral sermons, etc., the 26-volume Journal of Discourses is essentially a compilation of Conference addresses.  Latter-day Saints once accepted these addresses as the word of the Lord "through God's anointed," and as "standard works" or scripture, when they were given.  They were at least encouraged to accept them as such (see George Q. Cannon's preface to the Journal of Discourses, vol. 8, and Albert Carrington's preface to vol. 15, for just two examples).

The Church now calls those teachings "speculative," and good for "practical advice," but certainly "not an authoritative source of Church doctrine" (see here).  There seems to me to be a constant fluctuation over what the truth of different matters is.  What man or woman is there among you who considers this kind of guess-work more important than the scriptures?  
The unnamed family who wrote the letter left the Church because of their discovery that the leaders of the Church have taught for doctrine different things at different times.  Doctrines changed, ordinances changed, attitudes changed.  The only constant they found was change. 

In a recent statement from the Church about previous teachings on race we were taught we can't be sure previous leaders spoke by revelation and that their statements do not represent doctrine:

"'The origins of priesthood availability are not entirely clear. Some explanations with respect to this matter were made in the absence of direct revelation and references to these explanations are sometimes cited in publications. These previous personal statements do not represent Church doctrine'" (Mormon Newsroom article, emphasis mine).

What happens when in twenty or thirty years the Church tells you the instruction you received in the October 2012 general conference isn't to be understood as doctrine, that it was merely opinion and speculation, and that what matters is what the current leaders are teaching?  At what point does this eventually stop?  Where do you draw the line?  Is it your right to question the truthfulness of what is taught?  Since we are asked not to accept everything 19th century leaders taught, should we be so quick to accept all the teachings of today's leaders?  If previously they spoke "in the absence of direct revelation," though many times they claimed to be speaking the mind of God, how much more are we to believe that today they speak by the power of revelation, though they do not claim to do so?

This makes me think of Elder Benson's point that the most important reading you can do is in Church magazines.  Do you believe that?  If you do, how much time do you spend reading those each day?  "Beware of those who would tell you the scriptures and canonized revelations of Joseph Smith and the other dead prophets are more important to you than our Ensign articles."  Is the Spirit of the Lord in that? 

You must not believe that kind of thing.  Do not believe it though a man in office may teach it.  I think that anybody willing to engage in such thoughtless obedience to their leaders shouldn't claim rank among intelligent beings (Millennial Star, Volume 14, No. 38, Pages 593-595).  But don't take my word for it.   

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